Do state governments have right to change history?

Daniel Acosta, Contributer

Editor’s Note: This column was submitted to the Texan by a member of the UT community.

In a recent article by the Austin American-Statesman, it was reported that a majority of students in colleges and universities in Central Texas were people of color, while a majority of staff and faculty were white, especially at the University of Texas, my alma mater.  

At UT for all faculty in fall 2021, about 69% of the faculty were white and Hispanic faculty numbers were about 10%. Why has the leadership of the UT System and UT-Austin over the last 140 years not selected more Hispanic and Black faculty and administrators? Is it because the only presidents at UT have been white and have strong career ties to Texas?   

Due to pressure from Gov. Greg Abbott, the UT System has suspended new policies on diversity, equity and inclusion. More recently, Abbott has issued directives to disband college offices of DEI and fine those Texas colleges that ignore his orders. 

In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis has approved a required schoolbook that removed the mention of race in Rosa Parks’ famous opposition to the segregation of Black people on public buses. DeSantis does not want young white children to feel anguish or discomfort to learn that some of their white ancestors supported racism.  

The United States Supreme Court ruled in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional, and that “separate but equal” black schools could no longer be accepted in those states supporting segregated public schools. This decision allowed the federal government to establish DEI policies in the workplace by reducing discrimination in hiring practices. Across the country, many state and local governments, as well as the private sector, have embraced DEI policies to increase diversity in the workforce since the 1970s.   

Although diversity in college admissions is now being challenged with a case before the Supreme Court, which may affect DEI policies in the future, DeSantis, Abbott and other red state governors cannot change laws and history willy-nilly to fit their political agendas. Abbott and DeSantis and their state legislatures will continue to pass state laws that placate their white supporters. Unfortunately, in some red states, such as Texas and Florida, these extremist white views will only end when more reasonable state officials are elected to replace them.

As was shown in 2022 when red state governors and legislators ran on a platform to ban all abortions in their states, more reasonable citizens supported the continuation of abortion in several red states, notably Kansas.  

The UT System and UT Austin have the opportunity to stand up to the racist views of Abbott and the Texas Legislature by following the accepted legal precedents of diversity policies in the country. Texas is now a minority-majority state, where more than half of the state is nonwhite.  Reasonable white voters and people of color in the state will also have to oppose Abbott’s extremist policies.  

The previous UT president offered a steady and stable image that helped unite students and faculty during his tenure, but there were still problems with his handling of faculty sexual harassment and domestic abuse cases and with his inability to address Hispanic faculty inequities in salaries, tenure and retention. These issues have been quietly delegated to ad hoc committees for more review. 

Now is the time for the current UT President, Jay Hartzell, and the University of Texas to confront Gov. Abbott and to acknowledge Texas’ changing diverse population and culture. A crisis is a time for boldness, not retrenchment.

Acosta is dean emeritus of pharmacy at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, former deputy director at FDA’s National Center for Toxicological for Research, and former director of the graduate toxicology training program at UT.